In the 2000 Cameron Crowe movie, William Miller is told by an editor, "You're not there to join the party — we've already got one Hunter Thompson." In a different vein, perhaps the best turn the 17-year-old Iafrate's fortunes could have taken was to land on a team that already had one Ryan Murphy. With Iafrate's mobility, good shot and pedigree, being the son of former Al Iafrate, it's often assumed he must be an offensive defenceman. That assessment would have been just up until the point the Rangers added him in a trade this fall with the Plymouth Whalers, which led to him changing his game.
"My game has changed completely by coming to Kitchener, just playing defence first," says Max Iafrate, who was 78th in NHL Central Scouting's North American midterm rankings. "With good defence, comes good offence ... I try to be more like a Jack Johnson [of the Los Angeles Kings], He's a shutdown defenceman but he can rush, he can take it end-to-end when he wants to. But I want to be a shutdown defenceman who can score, and hit and fight when I need to."
Iafrate, a native of Livonia, Mich., has four goals and 12 points and is plus-11 in 38 games this season. He's been able to blend in well on the Rangers back end, which had a big hand in keeping Kitchener high up in the Western Conference standings even while Murphy missed nearly all of November with a concussion.
"Max has progressed really nicely," Rangers assistant coach Troy Smith says. "He's come in, he's bought into the team concept. Sometimes less is more for him. He's got a great skill set and he's got a bright future."
"Having guys like Ryan Murphy and [Winnipeg Jets prospect] Cody Sol in front of him to learn from, it's obviously valuable to him," Smith adds. "He's going to be a really good defenceman in this league."
There is some question of what role Iafrate can grow into at the next level. He has good size, being listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and seems fairly quick on his feet. Iafrate, who normally pairs with comeback kid Ben Fanelli on the Rangers second pair, has retained some vestiges of his roots as a rushing defenceman. He points out that playing on the same team as Murphy is a good primer on when it's appropriate to join the attack.
"Murph is the best offensive defenceman in Canada so just watching him you can learn a lot about when to go and when not to go," Iafrate says. "You also don't worry too much yourself about the offensive end because he can produce so many points for the team
"For me, last year and early this year I was too focused on trying to get points," he adds. "To play in the NHL, you have to know how to play defence."
1. Your dad has been on the ice at practice a few times helping out the Rangers. How has that helped you?
"He's worked with us a lot on getting our point shots through because we were having difficulty with that a couple weeks ago. It helped a lot. I think the next game, a couple of our defencemen scored."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest area of your game that has to improve before you can turn pro, apart from the obvious, getting stronger and quicker?
"Decision-making. I think it's the mind part of the game. I know I have all the skills, I've shown flashes of it but it comes down to being consistent on every shift. That's what makes the best players, like Murph."
3. Outside of family, who has had the greatest impact on your hockey career?
"My trainer, Mike Knight, he's helped a lot with making me pretty strong, I'm up to 200 pounds. He's worked Shaun Horcoff, Kris Draper, a lot of Red Wings. Our track workouts are pretty hard."
4. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"Winning a national championship with Detroit Compuware when I was little [in peewee]. A lot of guys from my team have gone really far in hockey, like [U.S. under-18 team defencemen and NHL draft prospects] Jacob Trouba and Patrick Sieloff. Seth Jones [a top prospect for the 2013 draft] was on the team we were playing against. That was really special."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Entourage." (Do you hope there's a movie?) "For sure."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).